Death of a parent; tough time in life

Dear Guys,

I am a divorced mom with two boys, 8 and 5.  Just a few months after my divorce I met a younger man (yes, 10 years younger) and we very quickly became a couple.  Within weeks he was “in love” with me and spending time with my boys; and within two months living with us and my mother.

Two and a half years later we are still together. We have had our ups and downs; he doesn’t have children and that alone is daunting. I am OCD and he is flighty, I have to have a game plan, but like to break my own rules; he asks what rules? I am a cheerleader; he hates life but does nothing to change it. We are ying and yang, yet we just seem to click in every aspect of our relationship.

Last year he bought a house for us and we began a new life in a new home, the four of us, a “family” (without the marriage).

For many years my mom had been sick (alcoholism) but nobody saw what my boyfriend and I did, nobody realized just how bad it was. Before, during, and after my divorce she was very much a part of my everyday life.  She and my boys were so close; she helped me as a partner would; she was my full time babysitter, my grocer, my helper, my everything, and then she died in October.

My boyfriend was there for me through it all; he was a part of each tear, each goodbye. He loved my mom and they got along so well. It has been terrible these last few months, but I know it was better because he was there, because he is my best friend.

So what is the problem?  Ying and yang are growing apart. I feel like I’m a martyr now, especially without my mom’s help. I take care of the kids; he sleeps in until minutes before leaving for work. I go to work only to come home and clean the house, do laundry and make sure everything is in order for the next day. He and the kids are on Playstation 3 most nights, caring less about the mopping or mirrors. I barely sleep anymore and when I do my mom haunts my dreams. I am overwhelmed with work, kids, him, life…and he started drinking again, drinking a lot, and I really hate that, especially after watching mom.

I am still grieving, my kids are grieving and it doesn’t seem like he notices, it seems he has finished grieving. Lately I feel invisible to him; my feelings seem to go unnoticed. I tried talking about it, even begging him to listen because that is what friends do.  But he stopped listening to me; sometimes he says I’m playing a guilt card. When I said I didn’t want to have to find a new best friend he cried. But two days later, he is oblivious again. He is miserable at his job, never asking about me, barely noticing me leaving for work and then having friends over while I work doubles. I’m just whooped and I don’t think he cares anymore.

I am not happy.  But I don’t know if it’s really all him, or actually because of all of the things that have happened. Regardless, if this relationship is doomed, I don’t have the means to go out on my own yet, and wouldn’t even know where to begin. My boys would be heartbroken; they have been through so much already. But I feel like there is something wrong in this relationship. It is either something selfish on his part, or needy and controlling on mine.

No, I haven’t done much grief counseling for myself, it would be one less hour that I could try and catch some sleep. No, I don’t go to church; I don’t have any other family around and not many girlfriends. There truly isn’t time for much of anything anymore and I feel like it’s just me hanging on by my fingernails on a cliff. I don’t feel like we are partners anymore, and now I wonder if we ever were. Maybe I didn’t notice because my mom filled the part?

Does this seem like behavior as “usual” after losing a parent, or am I in for a real shock to find out this is how hard life really is? That sometimes you can’t cheer your way out of a tough time and just have to take it as it comes, like it or not?  Am I asking too much of him or is he really self absorbed and too young?  I’m so worried about everything, too worried I think.


Dear Tabitha,

Thanks for your question.

Please accept our condolences. It’s very hard to lose someone you love. And losing a parent is like losing your anchor. In some ways it’s the beginning of your life as an adult.

Everyone grieves in their own way. And your boyfriend and you are both very different people. While you feel the pain every moment of your day, he has turned to drink and other distractions to ease his pain. (Not just the pain he feels about your mother, but also the pain he feels seeing you so heartbroken.)  Your guy feels powerless because he doesn’t know how to make it all better. Guys react two ways to this type of situation. They either throw themselves into the fray and try to fix the problem or they withdraw. Your guy is doing the latter.

This is also playing out in the division of chores. Even in your grief you know you have responsibilities and you take those seriously. You know that if you don’t do them no one will. And we agree that however your guy was contributing before your mother’s death should be the way he’s contributing now, or even more since she did so much for your family. But don’t undervalue what he’s currently contributing. This may sound silly, but making your sons’ lives happier by playing games with them is actually quite important at this juncture in their lives. Yes, we understand you feel resentful because you’re slaving around the house trying to make sure everything is running smoothly, but if you think about this from a mother’s perspective you’ll realize that he is contributing in his own way.

The drink is another matter entirely. This is above our “pay grade” but it’s likely he needs some professional help. In fact both of you could probably benefit from some sort of grief counseling. You say you don’t have the time but this could be a situation where you need to find the time somehow, some way. In fact the two of you probably should be seeing a couple’s counselor to help you work through this difficult time and move your relationship to a more solid place.

Is he too young to handle all of this? It’s possible. And it’s possible that your mother’s death and the void she left has made him realize that he’s not ready for all of this. Maybe he’s not ready to have an instant family, and maybe he wants to start life with a woman who is more his age with a similar set of experiences? We can’t say really, only he can. But these questions should be part of a larger conversation about your relationship: the now, and where it’s headed in the future.

Because of the huge role your mother played in the everyday functioning of your household you’re being hit extra hard by her passing. Not only did you lose a close friend, but you lost a partner, a teammate, and a fellow cheerleader. We do think you’ll figure out how to make it work day-to-day, but at least until you find another partner willing to share these responsibilities with you, things will be hard. And you certainly deserve to have someone who is going to be willing and able to step up to the plate. We are hoping your guy will be the one to do this.

Please feel free to ask any follow up questions. And take care. We hope you can work this all out.





2 Comments on Death of a parent; tough time in life

  1. Hi Guys, I’d like some feedback please. My relationship has been through the ringer, and I know it has put a strain on both me and my husband, but I feel like I’m the only one making an effort. We have a son who is 18 months old, and has a motor control issue that requires weekly therapy. My husband had major surgery 4 months ago for a condition that he was suffering from, but didn’t know about for a while. He deserves empathy, I know. But at the same time, he hasn’t contributed any money to our household income in 2 years. During that time he told everyone who knows him that he was “consulting” part time and being a “stay at home dad.” So, everyone thought things were great. The truth is different. During those two years he did watch our son part of the time, but I was always paying at least $1,000 / month in daycare expenses. Additionally, my husband has never taken our son to physical therapy, I have. I work full time ad have since my son was 3 months old. I pay for everything, absolutely everything. My husband wouldn’t cook, clean or do laundry until my son was about 14 months old, and he only started after I begged him for help. He blames me for his not communicating with me, and he seems to blame me for the fact that he is unemployed, and says that if our roles were reversed he would be more compassionate than I am. Help? Is he as seflish as I think he is? Is my marriage worth saving?

  2. @Laura……..It’s hard to say exactly, but we can say that his ego is probably very badly bruised by his unemployment and he now feels a bit lost as to what to do. Remember, a guy’s ego is very closely associated with their work, probably more than for women. So he’s not feeling very good about himself. He may even be feeling hopeless about his employment situation. Of course that’s no excuse for not helping more around the house and with your child, but we’re just trying to help you see what’s going on in his mind. Of course, you know him better than us. Do you think it could be something else? Does he strike you as someone who would mooch off your generosity? These are questions you need to answer before you decide what to do. Do you still love him?

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